06992 - Philosophical Anthropology

Course Unit Page

  • Teacher Roberto Brigati

  • Credits 12

  • SSD M-FIL/03

  • Teaching Mode Traditional lectures

  • Language Italian

  • Campus of Bologna

  • Degree Programme First cycle degree programme (L) in Anthropology, Religions, Oriental Civilizations (cod. 8493)

    Also valid for First cycle degree programme (L) in Philosophy (cod. 9216)


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Gender equality Reduced inequalities Sustainable cities Life on land

Academic Year 2021/2022

Course contents

In this course, anthropology will be approached from a philosophical point of view and with philosophical methods. However, in order to help non-philosophy students to attend and profit from the course, I will try and avoid technicalities as far as possible, or I will explain them as we go along. Anthropology students are encouraged to ask for clarifications (preferably, at the end of each class). I may ask philosophy students to answer the questions.

The course consists of three units. The following main topics will be addressed:

First Unit: Key concepts for the epistemology of anthropology

  • a tentative definition of 'philosophical anthropology';
  • some fundamental antitheses in anthropological epistemology: explanation/understanding, causes/reasons, anomaly/analogy;
  • elucidation of some main concepts: antropomorphism, ethnocentrism, naturalism.

Second Unit: some philosophical accounts of human nature from antiquity to modern thought;

  • Nature/culture dichotomy and the attacks on it, both from naturalistic philosophy and from the so-called "ontological turn" in today's anthropology.
  • particular attention will be devoted to the following historical topics, including analyses of texts: Herodotus' and Protagoras' forms of relativism; the origin of the concept of nature; Aristotle's naturalistic anthropology; the anthropology of the Renaissance (Pico, Erasmus); Cartesian dualism and the scientific revolution; Wittgenstein's critique of positivist anthropology.

Third Unit:

  • A sketch of the theory of evolution and of the notions of adaptation and natural selection;
  • Evolutionism and ethical naturalism;
  • Neo-Darwinism and its critics;
  • Sociobiology and its ethical claims;
  • Genetic and epigenetic, and their significance for the social sciences;
  • The notion of exaptation and non-adaptationist accounts of evolution.

Class will begin 1 February 2022. A more detailed schedule of the contents of each class will be available on the course e-learning site (on virtuale.unibo.it).


Visiting students are free to refer to the English (or other language) editions of these readings, if available.

Mandatory readings:

  • Readings provided by teacher (in Italian, approx. 220 pp.), available from the course website [To appear on virtuale.unibo.it. I can provide English versions of most of these texts-- please do not circulate without permission.]
  • Roberto Brigati e Valentina Gamberi, a cura di, Metamorfosi. La svolta ontologica in antropologia, Macerata: Quodlibet, 2019 [this is free for Unibo users: insert your credentials in login.ezproxy.unibo.it/menu and search "E-Book"].
  • One of the following groups:

Group 1)

  • Michael Tomasello, Le origini culturali della cognizione umana, trad. it. Bologna: Il Mulino, 2005 [orig. The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition, Harvard UP, 1999; ch. 5 & 6 are optional];
  • Michael Tomasello, Diventare umani, Milano: Cortina, 2019 [orig. Becoming Human. A Theory of Ontogeny, Harvard UP 2019].

Group 2)

  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Note sul "Ramo d'oro" di Frazer, trad. it. Milano: Adelphi, 1975 (the Italian edition includes a useful essay by J. Bouveresse, "Wittgenstein antropologo");
  • Marilena Andronico, Antropologia e metodo morfologico. Studio su Wittgenstein, Napoli: Città del Sole, 1998;
  • Fabio Dei, "Usanze sinistre e profonde: Wittgenstein, Frazer e la magia", in L’uomo, IV, n.s., 1, 1991, scaricabile da http://rmcisadu.let.uniroma1.it/glotto/archivio/materiali_didattici/dei/Wittgenstein,%20Frazer%20e%20la%20magia.pdf.

Group 3)

  • Telmo Pievani, Introduzione alla filosofia della biologia, Roma-Bari: Laterza, 2005;
  • Richard Dawkins, Il gene egoista, Milano: Mondadori, 1992 [orig. The Selfish Gene, Oxford UP 1976];
  • Stephen J. Gould, Il pollice del panda, Milano: Il Saggiatore, 2016 [orig. The Panda's Thumb, Norton 1992].

Group 4)

  • Eduardo Kohn, Come pensano le foreste. Per un'antropologia oltre l'umano, trad. it. di Alessandro Lucera e Alessandro Palmieri, Milano: Nottetempo, 2001 [orig. How Forests Think, University of California Press, 2013]
  • Jakob von Uexküll, Biologia teoretica, a cura di L. Guidetti, Macerata: Quodlibet, 2015 [there is a 1926 English transl., available on archive.org].

Group 5)

  • Friedrich Nietzsche, Genealogia della morale. Uno scritto polemico [1887], Adelphi, Milano 1984 [various English editions].
  • Hans Joas, Come nascono i valori, Macerata: Quodlibet, 2021 [orig. Die Entstehung der Werte, Suhrkamp 1998; there is an English translation, The Genesis of Values].

Group 6)

  • Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Prospettivismo cosmologico, Macerata: Quodlibet, 2019 [orig. Cosmological Perspectivism in Amazonia and Elsewhere, HAU Masterclass Series, 2012].
  • Fabio Dei, Luigigiovanni Quarta, a cura di, Sulla svolta ontologica. Prospettive e rappresentazioni tra antropologia e filosofia, Roma: Meltemi, 2021.

Recommended readings:

Students who are not familiar with philosophical concepts and language may refer to a number of introductory and reference texts, e.g. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, available free to Unibo users at: http://www2.sba.unibo.it.ezproxy.unibo.it/cgi-bin/bdati/banchedati.pl?type=sch&cod=1105626341. A standard resource is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessible free at https://plato.stanford.edu/

Since lessons will be entirely in Italian, exchange students may want to familiarize themselves with Italian philosophical usage, by referring to some standard philosophical dictionaries such as Nicola Abbagnano, Dizionario di Filosofia, revised by G. Fornero, Torino: UTET, various reprints.

A good handbook of the history of philosophy is also recommended, such as (in Italian) Luca Guidetti, Giovanni Matteucci, Le grammatiche del pensiero. Corso di filosofia, 3 vols., Bologna: Zanichelli, 2012. Exchange students may refer to handbooks in their own language.

Philosophy students who need to get acquainted with the basics of cultural anthropology may refer to S. Allovio, L. Ciabarri, G. Mangiameli (a cura di), Antropologia culturale. I temi fondamentali, Milano: Cortina, 2018, or any other handbook in their language.


Further readings for your personal interest:

-Arnold Gehlen, L'uomo. La sua natura e il suo posto nel mondo, a cura e con una prefazione di Vallori Rasini, Milano: Mimesis, 2010 [orig. Der Mensch, 1940; there is an English transl.].

Stefania Consigliere (a cura di), Mondi multipli. Vol. I: Oltre la grande partizione. Vol. II: Lo splendore dei mondi, Tricase: Kaiak/Youcanprint, 2014.[anthology]

- Philippe Descola, Oltre natura e cultura, a cura di Nadia Breda, Milano: Cortina, 2021.

Teaching methods

The course will mainly consist of frontal lessons and teacher-led discussions. Some simple exercises might be proposed. Student-led discussions and online activity are encouraged. You may raise your hand in class or on the relevant platform in case of remote attendance, you may use the platform chat, and there will be a discussion forum on virtuale.unibo.it as well.

You will be requested to read at least some of the mandatory readings during the course, both in order to foster comprehension and to be able to do the assigned exercises. I recommend to download the Reading materials from virtuale.unibo.it and to buy or get the required books from the Library before the beginning of the course.

I may invite some guest teachers during the course, and, if there are events organized at the Department that in my judgment might be of interest, I will inform you and invite you to participate (optionally, of course).

I will be grateful to Erasmus and other exchange students who plan to attend the course if they get in touch with me before the beginning of classes.

In the last class, I will ask 3-4 students to volunteer for presenting their paper, however unpolished, to the class. This is optional, but it's a useful exercise, to test your argument and get feedback from your colleagues. Presentations will be in Italian: but, even if your command of the Italian language is not perfect, I encourage you (i.e. exchange students) to try. Everyone will appreciate your effort.


Assessment methods

The exam is meant to ascertain:

  • students' knowledge of the assigned texts;
  • their understanding of the main views of human nature in philosophy;
  • their ability to clearly present a philosophical-antropological topic;
  • their ability to criticize and discuss the proposed topics.

The exam can be taken in one of two ways:

A) by writing a final paper, in Italian, 3000 to 4200 words. The paper will be graded on a 30/30 scale. I will make allowance for the additional linguistic difficulties faced by non-Italian speakers, and, if necessary, I will accept papers in English.

I will provide a short manual of style specifying the main lines of the Italian system of citation, footnotes, essay structure. I will also provide a list of topics, which you may variously combine, provided the paper maintains a clear unity.

B) Alternatively, students may take a viva voce examination (in Italian), which is also an additional option for students who fail the written paper. At the exam, you will be asked to present a topic of your choice, among the many offered by the course. Be ready to speak around 15 minutes. You may use notes, have the readings at hand, and any resource you may need. The presentation of the chosen topic will span about two thirds of the exam. I might then add a few questions about other topics within the readings or lessons.

Students' contribute to discussion in class and on the online forum (see under "Teaching tools") is welcome and will be duly considered in the final evaluation.

The following criteria will weigh on the paper's evaluation (and, mutatis, on the viva):

1. Understanding of the relevant texts (correct content comprehension, detection of the texts' most relevant notions and deeper significance): up to 12/30.
2. Correct writing (applicable if the paper is in the student's mothertongue) i.e. spelling, punctuation, syntax, command of general and philosophical vocabulary: up to 6/30.
3. Clarity, pertinence, well-structuring of the text: up to 5/30.
4. Logical consistency and soundness of argumentation: up to 4/30.
5. Originality and personal reflection: up to 3/30;
6. Participation in class or online discussions: up to 1/30.

Please note that the maximum mark is 30 cum laude; below 18/30 the exam is failed.

Teaching tools

There will be a course-related site on the Unibo e-learning platform (virtuale.unibo.it). All students are required to subscribe.

The site will feature a discussion forum, event calendar, study topics and tools, and will be used for teacher-students communication and, possibly, the distribution of homework.

I will also upload, on a weekly basis, the slides I will show during classes.

Office hours

See the website of Roberto Brigati